At times, pinning down a true frontrunner this Oscar season has felt as elusive as measuring the shape of water itself.
On Nov. 30, Lady Bird won the New York Film Critics Circle, and some declared it to be in the lead. Just three days later, Call Me by Your Name won the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and suddenly that was the film to beat. And so it went for a month, with Dunkirk and Get Out also taking brief turns as presumptive frontrunners.
The new year began, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri dominated the Golden Globes. So then that movie was in pole position. But a couple weeks later, the Academy delivered 13 nominations to The Shape of Water, sending prognosticators in yet another direction. Guillermo del Toro’s film took top honors at the Directors Guild. Three Billboards struck back at the BAFTAs. What do we do?
This is where math comes in. For the past seven years, I have predicted the Oscars using nothing but data and statistics. My method involves determining which factors – such as prior awards shows, which categories a film is nominated in, critic scores, and betting markets – have historically done the best job of predicting each Oscar category. The factors that are more predictive get more heavily weighted when calculating which of this year’s contenders are more likely to come out on top.
Today, my 2018 mathematical Oscar predictions begin with the top eight categories. I'll cover the percentages for best documentary and six other categories in Part 2 of this article tomorrow, and the remaining categories will appear in Part 3 on Friday.
Ben Zauzmer (@BensOscarMath) uses math to predict and write about the Oscars for The Hollywood Reporter. He recently graduated from Harvard with a degree in applied math, and he now works as a baseball analyst for the Los Angeles Dodgers.